military Vertical Rewind

Vertical rewind: Canada’s first military helicopter

The Canadian military purchased its very first helicopter — a Sikorsky S-51 — in 1947.  It had appeared at the potential of helicopters in search-and-rescue (SAR) operations in the course of the latter part of Second World Struggle, however regardless of the Royal Canadian Air Pressure (RCAF) registering curiosity within the Sikorsky R-6, it needed to wait until after the warfare to get its arms on a rotary-wing plane.

A front view of an S-51 approaching for a touchdown. DND Photograph

Sikorsky began production of the S-51, which was an improve of the wartime R-5, in 1946. It was initially manufactured for business use, however with gross sales sluggish in that realm, Igor Sikorsky switched gears to push the sort to the military within the U.S., Canada, and overseas. He shortly noticed success with the RCAF putting an order for seven aircraft.

The S-51 was a four-place helicopter, with the pilot up entrance and three passengers within the again on a bench seat. Powered by a 450-horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-985 Wasp Junior radial engine, it had a gross weight of 5,500 pounds (2,495 kilograms) with a useful load of 1,450 pounds (655 kilograms). It cruised at 85 miles per hour (135 kilometers per hour), had a service ceiling of 14,800 ft (Four,510 meters), and a variety of 300 miles (480 kilometers). The S-51 got here with an electrical hoist (controllable from each front and back seats), and will accommodate a casualty litter. While the plane’s military designation was the H-5, it was principally known as the S-51 by the Canadians.

Flying Officer Tomas Wallnutt (one in every of five senior flying instructors on the Central Flying Faculty in Trenton, Ontario) was the first RCAF pilot selected for helicopter coaching on the Sikorsky Plant in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He acquired a familiarization flight on Feb. 11, 1947, and commenced his dual instruction the subsequent day in a wartime R-4 helicopter. He flew his first solo flight every week later, shortly graduated to the S-51, and completed his coaching with about 35 hours on March 11.

The following day, he began a two-day ferry flight with Canada’s first S-51 from Bridgeport to Trenton. He flew the plane every day to build his time and proficiency with it, and returned to the U.S. on March 19 to ferry the second S-51.

On March 28, Wallnutt suffered a critical accident with one of the plane during autorotation follow, brushing a runway with the plane’s laminated picket tail rotor. “I received no indication of this happening and opened the throttle to complete another circuit,” he later recalled during an interview. “At 200 feet or so altitude, the tail rotor splintered apart and the vibration tore the entire gear box from the tail. The aircraft entered a violent spin and crashed on the runway.” Wallnutt was thrown via the left aspect of the plane and ended up on the runway — where he was struck by one of the foremost rotor blades. Fortunately, there was no post-crash hearth, and he managed to survive the incident. Nevertheless, he was unable to fly for 9 months, and by no means flew in a helicopter again. The accident was later attributed to the aircraft’s middle of gravity limits being exceeded because of a scarcity of consideration to the right ballast on board. The aircraft was returned to Sikorsky for overhaul and repairs.

The first RCAF Sikorsky S-51 in Canada’s Northwest Territories within the early 1950s. The aircraft was being used to take a look at a route for the Mid Canada Line. Dan Campbell Photograph

Flight Lieutenant Pat Clark was the subsequent RCAF pilot to receive helicopter coaching, completing his conversion to helicopters in Bridgeport on June 11, 1947. On returning to Canada, Clark spent some time on demonstrations and check flights with the second S-51, and commenced instructing on the new flying faculty in Trenton on June 25. Flying Officers Tom Causey, Bob Heaslip, and Bert Milliken have been his first students, and became fully-fledged instructors themselves on Sept. 20.

“The S-51 was a brand new beast to me, [and was] very difficult to fly, especially in the back seat,” Heaslip recalled throughout an interview many years later. “It could be very unstable, and one had to be on the controls all the time. The S-51 was underpowered with a lot of vibration. I credit a lot of the early success with the helicopter to all the maintenance people that worked on them.”

Beginning operations

The mandate for the RCAF’s S-51/H-5 was flight training and SAR, and the first operational RCAF squadron for the S-51 was at 103 Search and Rescue (S&R) Flight in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Its first mission was on Oct. 16, when it responded to the crash of a Navy Supermarine Seafire plane near the outskirts of Dartmouth. On Oct. 27, the helicopter and Causey moved to the Air Drive Station at Greenwood, Nova Scotia — once more with 103 S&R Flight — where it remained on SAR duties. Causey began coaching new pilots on the sort the next March.

On Dec. 6, Heaslip was posted to 112 Transport Flight at Rivers, Manitoba, to help set up a brand new helicopter flight coaching faculty for Air Pressure, Army and some Navy pilots. The next August, he was posted to De Havilland Aircraft in Toronto for conversion to the Bell 47D.

Milliken, meanwhile, was hooked up to the 412 Composite Squadron in Rockcliffe, Ontario, and served as the primary training pilot at the Experimental and Proving Establishment. He ferried the RCAF’s fourth and fifth S-51s from Bridgeport to Rockcliffe in the direction of the top of 1948.

“Of all the aircraft that Bert flew, he had the most affection for the S-51 helicopter and loved his flying days on rotary wing at Rockcliffe,” his spouse, Dorothy, later wrote.

S-51 #9603 at the Calgary Planetarium website in the early 1970s. The S-51s got here in an aluminum shade before yellow rescue colors have been used. Bob Petite Photograph

By the top of 1948, the two latest S-51s have been in Rivers and assigned to the Army for training on the Mild Aircraft Faculty (LAS). The RCAF was to receive its ultimate two S-51s — its sixth and seventh — in 1949.

In between several accidents that required repairs, the first S-51 arrived in Edmonton, Alberta, from where it travelled to quite a few airshows throughout the province, and took part in no less than one SAR mission. The second S-51 continued SAR operations and coaching in Greenwood, and it also took part in airshows, while the third moved to Trenton, Ontario, notably showing at the Canadian National Expedition in Toronto in late August 1949.

On April 1, 1949, the Canadian Joint Air Training Middle (CJATC) was created at Rivers, Manitoba. Both Army S-51s spent the yr at Rivers being used to train new pilots, along with two Bell 47Ds.

In fact, the S-51s all required dedicated airframe and engine technicians to keep them flying. These individuals also helped load and unload the aicraft, gasoline them, and helped throughout hoisting operations. The maintenance typically happened late into the night time, especially during subject operations.

“As the helicopter was new to us, considerable training and various tests were carried out in the air,” stated Cpl Harold Brownrigg throughout an interview, who was among the many first group of people to receive maintenance training. “We practiced autorotation landings without power, and other maneuvers. This included rescue training over water and the ground by the use of a hoisting cable and harness.”

The final two S-51s arrived at the RCAF station on Sea Island in Vancouver, British Columbia, in Might 1949. One of the plane was assigned to 123 S&R Flight at Sea Island for use for coaching and SAR operations. The RCAF deliberate to make use of the opposite to fly surveyors on a mapping program within the Yukon and British Columbia, as very little mapping of Northern Canada had been accomplished prior to the Second World Struggle.

The instrument panel of a Sikorsky S-51. Terry Jones Photograph

The plane was assigned to RCAF Station Whitehorse, Yukon, where it took half in an Army survey venture, shifting surveyors and their gear between Fort Nelson and Fort St. John, British Columbia, over the summer time of 1949. Use of the helicopter minimize surveying prices and elevated the world that might be coated. On the completion of this system, the helicopter returned to Whitehorse for SAR duties.

By the top of 1949, the RCAF owned five S-51s, whereas the Canadian Military owned two, plus the 2 Bell 47Ds.

Increasing capabilities

All through 1950, the plane continued their training and SAR work as well as performing at numerous airshows and demonstrations. The record of operations grew as the RCAF explored the plane’s capabilities. In Nova Scotia, the S-51 took half in radar calibration workouts with an aircraft service in St. Margaret’s Bay, at one point landing on the service; in Ontario, the plane was used on forest fires; in Manitoba, it flew restoration operations following flooding; while on the West Coast, it took part in checks to determine the suitability of utilizing the helicopter off the again of a ship — the MV Songhee — for searches along the coast.

By 1951, Sikorsky had ceased manufacturing of the S-51, and it was producing spare elements on a restricted foundation. The Air Drive looked at stockpiling spares for future needs.

The S-51 continued its survey work, this time within the Mackenzie Mountains in the Northwest Territories. Other notable operations included hauling dynamite to an ice blockage from a river close to Drugs Hat, Alberta; the enlargement into mountain operations with landings as much as 5,300 ft; and the salvage of 1 badly-damaged S-51 by another on Mary Mountain, close to Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories.

One other notable change through the yr was Heaslip ending his work as an instructor at Rivers. He was replaced by FO Tom Causey.

Flying Officer Tom Wallnutt at Trenton, Ontario, in 1947. He was the first RCAF pilot educated on rotary-wing aircraft. Tom Wallnutt Photograph

“I never did get tired of flying the S-51,” stated Heaslip. “It was a most interesting period of my life and the S-51 was something that was quite new and novel when a lot people looked on with mistrust and said that the helicopter was not going to last.”

During 1952, the Canadian forces explored further modifications to the S-51. The third S-51 had its material coated blades replaced with new metallic blades, permitting an increase in maximum gross weight to 5,500 kilos (2,495 kilograms), while the RCAF investigated using bear paws or skis. Studies from the sector indicated that two accidents S-51s had been involved in wouldn’t have occurred if that they had been fitted with some type of snow skis. One of many RCAF’s plane was already using bear paws, offered by Okanagan Helicopters in Vancouver.  Whereas Greenwood particularly was keen to explore using floats on the aircraft, the anticipated arrival of the Piasecki H-21A twin-rotor helicopters, which have been outfitted with flotation gear, put this requirement on the again burner.

One of many S-51s arrived at Okanagan Helicopters for use for an RCAF mountain flying course in 1952. The next yr, the RCAF looked at acquiring cargo nets for shifting bulky gear over inaccessible terrain — which might require testing; thought-about utilizing the S-51 for instrument flying, explored the installation of twin controls; and made plans to re-allocate the S-51s after the introduction of the H-21A in 1954.

The H-21 was one among simply three varieties on order for the Canadian Forces, along with the Sikorsky S-55/H-19 and Sikorsky S-58/H-34. The RCAF meant to type an all-helicopter squadron with Heaslip in cost, but this may also require a buildup of latest pilots. It planned to ferry 5 of its S-51s to Rivers for pilot training.

Three of the aircraft have been upgraded for instrument and night time flying in 1954, they usually have been also fitted with twin controls for training. The S-51’s main position shifted from SAR to range patrol underneath visual flight guidelines, and the S-51s can be used for coaching and range patrol duties as soon because the H-21As have been distributed to the SAR models. The first H-21A arrived at Arnprior, Ontario, on Aug. 27, flown by Heaslip.

Preparing for retirement

With the arrival of the H-21s, the S-51s started to seek out new houses, but the S-51 that had been based mostly on Sea Island didn’t survive the yr — it was destroyed in a hangar hearth on April 29, 1954. By 1955, four of the remaining S-51s have been situated at Rivers, with one every at Chatham, New Brunswick, and Chilly Lake, Alberta. By this time, lifetime spares procurement for the sort was turning into essential. The RCAF hoped to use the S-51s till no less than 1961, so made a plan to acquire surplus S-51 elements from the U.S. military.

The last S-51 to fly operationally with the RCAF was #9601. Here it is at RCAF Station Rockcliffe near Ottawa, Ontario, in the mid-1960s. Ken Molson Photograph

The plane in Chilly Lake and Chatham have been used for SAR (the Chilly Lake S-51 additionally patrolled the bottom’s air weapons range) and their pilots spent a whole lot of time working towards with the aircraft’s electrical hoist. The crewman within the again was important for hoist operations, because it was quite troublesome for the pilot to see when hoisting solo.

“When we did winch practice in the warmer months, with a crew of two, we used a 150-pound [68-kilogram] dummy, and we would winch ourselves down to ground effect before we could lift the dummy from the ground,” recalled Military pilot Terry Jones throughout a later interview. “The great, long collective was a handful to lift; the steel throttle, to twist; the pedals, although huge, were a good distance forward; and the cyclic could cause interference with the collective on takeoff, when compensating for the rolling motion to the right,” he continued.

By 1959, the RCAF planned to part out its S-51s with the procurement of six Vertol 107 twin-rotor helicopters, and this was anticipated to start throughout 1961/62 and be full by 1962/63.

The training programs at Rivers continued to churn out new helicopter pilots — by the top of 1959, seven helicopter conversion courses had been held, graduating 20 pilots.

In early 1960, the RCAF determined to not restore any S-51s concerned in crashes, and provision of spares for the sort beyond mid-1962 was not approved. Despite this, all of the S-51s have been outfitted with new metallic blades by March 1960.

A training accident in June 1960 destroyed one of the remaining S-51s, because it rolled onto one aspect during a takeoff, but fortunately both the scholar and teacher escaped unharmed.

By 1962, most of the S-51s have been moved to storage. The final flying S-51 at Rivers was concerned in an accident in April that yr and was written off. The S-51 at Chatham was the final one in operation, retiring on Jan. 1, 1965, when it was changed by a Piasecki H-44. The S-51 was flown to Rockcliffe and have become part of the Canada National Aeronautical Collection, stored within the National Aviation Museum (later renamed the Canada Aviation and Area Museum).

At this time, that S-51 is out on mortgage, on show on the National Air Drive Museum of Canada in Trenton, Ontario. The opposite former-RCAF S-51s ended up in numerous places round North America. One is on show in the New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks, Connecticut; one is on the American Helicopter Museum in West Chester, Pennsylvania; and one is within the Hangar Flight Museum in Calgary, Alberta.

For 18 years, the Sikorsky S-51/H-5 served the RCAF and Canadian Army with distinction and satisfaction, permitting the forces to enter the world of rotary-wing operations, and giving many military pilots their first introduction to the wonders of vertical flight.